Sam Bankman-Fried is expected to agree to extradition to the US
By David Yaffe-Bellany, Rob Copeland and Matthew Goldstein
Disgraced cryptocurrency executive Sam Bankman-Fried is expected to agree to extradition to the United States, according to a person briefed on the matter, as he faces charges that he orchestrated a yearslong fraud culminating last month in the collapse of his crypto exchange, FTX.
In the United States, Bankman-Fried, 30, has been charged with using his customers’ FTX deposits to make lavish real estate purchases, invest in other companies and donate funds to politicians. Bankman-Fried was arrested last Monday at his luxury apartment complex in the Bahamas. After being held overnight in a police cell, he was denied bail by a judge in the Bahamas on Tuesday and transferred to the island’s notorious Fox Hill prison.
In court Tuesday, Bankman-Fried said he wouldn’t waive his right to challenge the extradition. But after a few days in prison, he’s now inclined to go along with the extradition, although his decision could still change, according to the person briefed on the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive legal deliberations. He is expected to state his new position at a court hearing as early as Monday, the person said.
An extradition sets up what will likely become a monthslong legal drama in the United States. On Tuesday, prosecutors for the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York unsealed a 13-page criminal indictment charging Bankman-Fried with eight counts, including wire fraud against customers and lenders, as well as conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Once he is transferred to the United States, Bankman-Fried will be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan and have a new bail hearing.
After the charges were filed, Mark Cohen, a lawyer for Bankman-Fried, said his client was “reviewing the charges with his legal team and considering all of his legal options.”
The news that Bankman-Fried was expected to agree to extradition was first reported by Reuters.
The collapse of FTX was an extraordinary fall for Bankman-Fried, a crypto celebrity who testified in front of Congress and was at the forefront of an effort to make the technology mainstream.
He founded FTX in Hong Kong but moved the company to the Bahamas in late 2021, capitalizing on the country’s friendly regulatory posture toward crypto. He also marketed the company aggressively in the United States: His face was plastered on advertisements, and he rubbed shoulders with actors and star athletes, cultivating a reputation as a hardworking do-gooder who intended to donate his vast wealth to charity. For a while, he was widely thought to be the second-richest crypto industry mogul.
Even as other crypto firms struggled this year, FTX was viewed as a responsible company in a freewheeling, loosely regulated industry. That changed in early November, when a run on deposits revealed an $8 billion hole in the company’s accounts, forcing the exchange to file for bankruptcy Nov. 11. Its collapse has rocked the industry, sending crypto prices spiraling and forcing one other major crypto company, the lender BlockFi, to file for bankruptcy.
Bankman-Fried resigned the day of FTX’s bankruptcy filing. He was replaced by John Jay Ray III, a lawyer who specializes in restructuring troubled companies. In bankruptcy filings and testimony to Congress, Ray has harshly criticized Bankman-Fried’s management, calling it a “complete failure of corporate control.”
In the early 2000s, Ray oversaw the unwinding of Enron, an energy trading firm that collapsed in an accounting scandal. But he said in a court filing that the mess at FTX was the worst he had ever seen.
Since he was denied bail in the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried has been held at the Fox Hill correctional center in Nassau, the country’s capital, in a room with five other people.
Known among locals as “Fox Hell,” the prison has been widely criticized for its harsh conditions. Running water inside the prison is sparse, beatings from guards are common and inmates sometimes defecate in buckets, according to former prisoners, family members of inmates and a U.S. State Department report.
A former Fox Hill prisoner released last year, Sean Hall, said he was briefly incarcerated in maximum security, where he was crammed into a cell no wider than his wingspan with five other inmates. They slept on metal bunk beds without mattresses, he said, and woke up covered in bug bites.
“It’s no living condition for no type of living being,” Hall said.
Doan Cleare, the prison’s head administrator, declined to allow a New York Times reporter and photographer to enter the prison grounds. He wouldn’t give many details on Bankman-Fried’s condition, except to say that the FTX founder was in the medical facility for reasons that couldn’t be specified. He described the medical facility as a “dorm-style apartment.”
“There’s no preferential treatment,” Cleare said, noting that the prison is undergoing renovations to improve conditions.
Bankman-Fried’s parents, Stanford Law School professors Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried, visited the prison Thursday, dropping off clothes and medicine, according to a person familiar with the matter.
They also deposited money in Bankman-Fried’s commissary account, Cleare said, but were not permitted to see their son.